From the far reaches of the antebellum south where Afro-Appalachian descendants fought through slavery, reconstruction and Jim Crowism to keep hundreds of acres of land in the family is the lore that legacies are made of.
Over the weekend, Virniecia Green-Jordan celebrated her rich beginnings of “Zeketown,” and well beyond its borders where everybody knows their name.
“Part of it is genes, and attitude,” said Green-Jordan. “I come from a family, especially the Coe’s. The Coe Colonies, Coe Ridge – that’s half of my genes right there.”
Her “Fulfillment of a legacy” event celebrated some of the most influential people in her life. Her strength starts with great great great grandfather, Ezekiel, who bought over 300 acres of land after abolition, as well as her inspiration and friend, the late great Clarence Muse.
She feels that he never really got his due.
“Clarence did a lot. I knew him personally, and he was a lawyer. That’s what they didn’t like about him in Perris,” she said. “The good ole’ boys don’t have that kind of background. They don’t understand how [he could] withstand some things.”
Much of the event highlighted her own well-documented family journey that began in the Hills of southeast Kentucky through generations of fight, sometimes won by gun. Keeping family together through the ravages of slavery was the motivation, and her great great great grandparents were determined to hang on to family land.
“The fight was daily. What happened on the ridge [is that] my direct line were the leaders,” she said. “They [whites] were definitely trying to get us to leave.”
To this day, she and the family still catch up at annual reunions. She knows their story holds special relevant lessons for this generation.
“We just got two landmarks, our cemeteries are over 150 years old in Kentucky,” she said. “We have people used to defending their property. I come from that background. I’m going to defend and develop my land. That’s mamma’s side.”
Over time, some land on her father’s Mississippi side was bought by slaves, but lost mostly due to the color line. Her grandfather was an educator, a mathematician, and a preacher. Her mother and cousins could pass for white, but her grandfather was dark skinned, which also made him a target.
“They did all they could against him because she died, and we lost the property in Mississippi over my cousins,” she said.
Through the years, she has returned time and again back to the old landmarks, both physically and emotionally, to strengthen her own local fight.
Green-Jordan was the first African American elected in Perris in 1985, and is still seated on the Perris school board. To her knowledge, she is the longest-serving elected African American school board member in the Inland Empire.
Coming in over three decades ago held its share of challenges. Riverside County has always been more conservative than San Bernardino County.
As a child and teen, she lived through major civil rights era riots, including Detroit and Watts. Her family bought 2.5 acres in 1959 in Perris, where she came to live in 1968.
But she and her brother faced local education discrimination on a few different fronts.
Both were at the top of their class, and her brother was an exceptionally high achiever, yet Black students back then didn’t have access to scholarships. He attended UCR as a physics major, and holds a master’s degree in astrophysics.
He also worked in the space sector, but at Perris High School, he received no accolades.
“They were not very nice to us in high school when we moved out here. They gave us no scholarships,” she said. “Scholarships and name recognition at Perris were only for white students.”
Despite the fight that continued all the way to Perris, there is a sense of pride in the bloodline that comes from being the great great great granddaughter of Ezekiel and Patsy Coe.
On her mother’s side, three books are written about the “infamous” Coe Family, whom she calls the “true feuders.” Since her parents bought land in Perris, they also continued to make their local mark, having held an instrumental role in bringing lights, roads and electricity to the dark parts of town.
“It’s the fact that we don’t get our history documented as a people. We have done a lot – the streets, the lights and the roads, and Mead Valley. Those areas were done by African Americans,” she said.
For nearly three decades, she has also committed to honor the memory of Dr. Clarence Muse through arts programming offered with Perris Valley Arts & Activities Committee. The project was founded by Muse and wife Ena in 1963 under the auspices of the Perris Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Muse was multi-talented, encompassing several areas of arts and entertainment, including songwriting, playwright, and as a Broadway show director. He was featured or performed in over 200 films starting in 1929, including Porgy and Bess, Buck and the Preacher, and Carwash.
He died in Perris fifty years later, leaving behind an indelible impression for the local creative community to carry forward.
“Our story has not been told. Clarence Muse when he lived, he would say that the stories Black people have are real drama. We had to live through that,” she said.
Over the years, Green-Jordan, who holds two masters degrees, is also the recipient of numerous awards and recognition for her work to strengthen the community.
Green-Jordan founded, or has been involved in numerous community-based programs and projects, including UCR Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Corona-Norco Teachers Association Special Education Committee, Willie May Taylor National Council of Negro Women, Perris NAACP Chapter, and Perris Valley African American History Month Committee. Among many other commitments, she also served as Coalition of Black School Board Members Vice President and the Activities Committee, Executive Director.
Much of what drives her passion for the future comes from the past.
“That’s why I called it ‘Fulfillment of Legacy’ because it goes back to slavery. It has been ingrained,” she said. “I was raised to give back and to develop the community.”
For more information, see https://www.pvaac.com/
This article originally appeared in the Precinct Reporter Group News.